[In the beatitudes there] are eight steps leading to true blessedness. They may be compared to Jacob’s Ladder, the top whereof reached to heaven. We have already gone over one step—and now let us proceed to the second.
‘Blessed are those who mourn.’ We must go through the valley of tears—to paradise! Mourning would be a sad and unpleasant subject to address—were it not that it has blessedness going before, and comfort coming after. Mourning is put here, for repentance. It implies both sorrow, which is the cloud, and tears which are the rain distilling in this golden shower!
The words fall into two parts, first, an assertion—that mourners are blessed people; second, a reason—because they shall be comforted.
The Assertion: Mourners are Blessed People
‘Blessed are you who weep now’ (Luke 6:21). Though the saints’ tears are bitter tears—yet they are blessed tears. But will all mourning entitle a man to blessedness? No! there is a twofold mourning which is far from making one blessed. There is a carnal mourning, and a diabolical mourning.
1. There is a CARNAL mourning when we lament outward losses. ‘A cry of anguish is heard in Ramah—weeping and mourning unrestrained. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted—for they are dead!’ (Matthew 2:18). There are abundance of these carnal tears shed. We have many who can mourn over a dead child—who cannot mourn over a crucified Savior! Worldly sorrow hastens our funerals. ‘The sorrow of the world works death’ (2 Corinthians 7:10).
2. There is a DIABOLICAL mourning and that is twofold:
When a man mourns that he cannot satisfy his impure lust. This is like the devil, whose greatest torture is that he can be no more wicked. Thus Ammon mourned and was sick, until he defiled his sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:2). Thus Ahab mourned for Naboth’s vineyard, “So Ahab went home angry and sullen. The king went to bed with his face to the wall and refused to eat!’ (1 Kings 21:4). This was a devilish mourning.
Again, when men are sorry for the good which they have done. Pharaoh was grieved that ‘he had let the children of Israel go’ (Exodus 14:5). Many are so devilish that they are troubled they have prayed so much and have heard so many sermons. They repent of their repentance. But if we repent of the good which is past—God will not repent of the evil which is to come.
The OBJECTS of spiritual mourning. To illustrate this point of holy mourning, I shall show you what is the adequate object of it. There are two objects of spiritual mourning—sin and misery.
The first object of spiritual mourning is SIN; and that twofold, our own sin; and the sin of others.
1. Our OWN sin. Sin must have tears. While we carry the fire of sin about with us—we must carry the water of tears to quench it! (Ezekiel 7:16). ‘They are not blessed’ (says Chrysostom) ‘who mourn for the dead—but rather those who mourn for sin.’ And indeed it is with good reason we mourn for sin, if we consider the GUILT of sin, which binds over to wrath. Will not a guilty person weep, who is to be bound over to the penalty? Every sinner is to be tried for his life and is sure to be cast away—if sovereign mercy does not become an advocate for him.
The POLLUTION of sin. Sin is a plague spot, and will you not labor to wash away this spot with your tears? Sin makes a man worse than a toad or serpent. The serpent has nothing but what God has put into —but the sinner has that which the devil has put into him. ‘Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?’ (Acts 5:3). What a strange metamorphosis has sin made! The soul, which was once of an azure brightness, sin has made of a sable color! We have in our hearts the seed of the unpardonable sin. We have the seed of all those sins for which the damned are now tormented! And shall we not mourn? He who does not mourn, has surely lost the use of his reason. But every mourning for sin is not sufficient to entitle a man to blessedness. I shall show what is not the right gospel-mourning for sin, and then what is the right gospel-mourning for sin.
What is NOT the right gospel-mourning for sin?
There is a fivefold mourning which is false and spurious.
A despairing kind of mourning. Such was Judas’ mourning. He saw his sin, he was sorry, he made confession, he justifies Christ, he makes restitution (Matthew 27). Judas, who is in hell, did more than many nowadays! He confessed his sin. He did not plead necessity or good intentions—but he makes an open acknowledgment of his sin. ‘I have sinned!’ Judas made restitution. His conscience told him he came wickedly by the money. It was ‘the price of blood’, and he ‘brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests’ (Matthew 27:3). But how many are there who invade the rights and possessions of others—but not a word of restitution! Judas was more honest than they are. Well, wherein was Judas’ sorrow blameworthy? It was a mourning joined with despair. He thought his wound broader than the plaster. He drowned himself in tears. His was not repentance unto life (Acts 11:18)—but rather unto death.
An hypocritical mourning. The heart is very deceitful. It can betray as well by a tear—as by a kiss. Saul looks like a mourner, and as he was sometimes ‘among the prophets’ (1 Samuel 10:12) So he seemed to be among the penitents—’And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord’ (1 Samuel 15:24). Saul played the hypocrite in his mourning, for he did not take shame to himself—but he did rather take honor to himself: ‘honor me before the elders of my people’ (verse 30). He pared and minced his sin that it might appear lesser, he laid his sin upon the people, ‘because I feared the people’ (verse 24). They would have me fly upon the spoil, and I dare do no other. A true mourner labors to draw out sin in its bloody colors, and accent it with all its killing aggravations, that he may be deeply humbled before the Lord. ‘Our iniquities are increased over our head, and our sin has grown up unto the heavens’ (Ezra 9:6). The true penitent labors to make the worst of his sin. Saul labors to make the best of sin; like a patient that makes the best of his disease, lest the physician should prescribe him too sharp remedy. How easy is it for a man to put a cheat upon his own soul—and by hypocrisy to sweep himself into hell!
A forced mourning. When tears are pumped out by God’s judgements, these are like the tears of a man who has the stone, or that lies upon the rack. Such was Cain’s mourning. ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear!’ (Genesis 4:13). His punishment troubled him more than his sin! To mourn only for fear of hell is like a thief that weeps for the penalty, rather than the offence. The tears of the wicked are forced by the fire of affliction!
An external mourning; when sorrow lies only on the outside. ‘They disfigure their faces’ (Matthew 6:16). The eye is tender—but the heart is hard. Such was Ahab’s mourning. ‘He tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh, and went softly’ (1 Kings 21:27). His clothes were torn—but his heart was not torn. He had sackcloth but no sorrow. He hung down his head like a bulrush—but his heart was like granite. There are many who may be compared to weeping marbles, they are both watery and flinty.
A vain fruitless mourning. Some will shed a few tears—but are as bad as ever. They will deceive and be unclean. Such a kind of mourning there is in hell. The damned weep—but the continue to blaspheme God.
What is the RIGHT gospel-mourning?
That mourning which will entitle a man to blessedness has these qualifications:
It is spontaneous and free. It must come as water out of a spring, not as fire out of a flint. Tears for sin must be like the myrrh which drops from the tree freely without cutting or forcing. Mary Magdalene’s repentance was voluntary. ‘She stood weeping’ (Luke 7). She came to Christ with ointment in her hand, with love in her heart, with tears in her eyes. God is for a freewill offering. He does not love to be put to distrain.
Gospel-mourning is spiritual; that is, when we mourn for sin more than suffering. Pharaoh says, “Take away the plague!” He never thought of the plague of his heart. A sinner mourns because judgment follows at the heels of sin—but David cries out, ‘My sin is ever before me’ (Psalm 51:3). God had threatened that the sword should ride in circuit in his family—but David does not say, ‘The sword is ever before me’—but ‘My sin is ever before me’. The offence against God troubled him. He grieved more for his treason against God—than the bloody axe. Thus the penitent prodigal, ‘I have sinned against heaven, and before you’ (Luke 15:18,21). He does not say, ‘I am almost starved among the husks’—but ‘I have offended my father’.
In particular, our mourning for sin, if it is spiritual, must be under this threefold notion:
1. We must mourn for sin, as it is an act of hostility and enmity against God.
Sin not only makes us unlike God—but contrary to God: ‘They have walked contrary unto me’ (Leviticus 26:40). Sin affronts and resists the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). Sin is contrary to God’s nature; God is holy; sin is an impure thing. Sin is contrary to his will. If God be of one mind—sin is of another. Sin does all it can to spite God. The Hebrew word for ‘sin’ signifies ‘rebellion’. A sinner fights against God (Acts 5:39). Now when we mourn for sin as it is a walking contrary to heaven, this is a gospel-mourning.
2. We must mourn for sin, as it is the highest ingratitude against God.
It is a kicking against the breasts of mercy. God sends his Son to redeem us, his Spirit to comfort us. We sin against the blood of Christ, the grace of the Spirit—and shall we not mourn? We complain of the unkindness of others, and shall we not lay to heart our own unkindness against God? Caesar took it unkindly that his son, Brutus, should stab him—’and you, my son!’ May not the Lord say to us, ‘These wounds I have received in the house of my friend!’ (Zechariah 13:6). Israel took their jewels and earrings and made a golden calf of them. The sinner takes the jewels of God’s mercies and makes use of them to sin. Ingratitude is a ‘crimson sin’ (Isaiah 1:18). Sins against gospel-love are worse in some sense, than the sins of the devils, for they never had an offer of grace offered to them. Now when we mourn for sin as it has its accent of ingratitude upon it, this is an evangelical mourning.
3. We must mourn for sin as it is a privation; it keeps good things from us; it hinders our communion with God.
Mary wept for Christ’s absence. ‘They have taken away my Lord!’ (John 20:13). So our sins have taken away our Lord. They have deprived us of his sweet presence. Will not he grieve, who has lost a rich jewel? When we mourn for sin under this notion, as it makes the Sun of Righteousness withdraw from our horizon; when we mourn not so much that peace is gone, and trading is gone—but God is gone, ‘My beloved had withdrawn himself’ (Canticles 5:6); this is a holy mourning. The mourning for the loss of God’s favor—is the best way to regain his favor. If you have lost a friend, all your weeping will not fetch him again—but if you have lost God’s presence, your mourning will bring your God again.
Gospel-mourning sends the soul to God. When the prodigal son repented, he went to his father. ‘I will arise and go to my father’ (Luke 15:18). Jacob wept and prayed (Hosea 12:4). The people of Israel wept and offered sacrifice (Judges 2:4,5). Gospel-mourning puts a man upon duty. The reason is, that in true sorrow there is a mixture of hope, and hope puts the soul upon the use of means. That mourning which like the ‘flaming sword’ keeps the soul from approaching to God, and beats it off from duty—is a sinful mourning. It is a sorrow hatched in hell. Such was Saul’s grief—which drove him to the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:7). Evangelical mourning is a spur to prayer. The child who weeps for offending his father goes to his presence and will not leave until his father is reconciled to him. Absalom could not be quiet ‘until he had seen the king’s face’ (2 Samuel 14:32, 33).
Gospel-mourning is for sin in particular. The deceitful man is occupied with generalities. It is with a true penitent as it is with a wounded man. He comes to the surgeon and shows him all his wounds. Here I was cut with the sword; here I was shot with a bullet. So a true penitent bewails all his particular sins. ‘We have served Baal’ (Judges 10:10). They mourned for their idolatry. And David lays his fingers upon the sore—and points to that very sin which troubled him (Psalm 51:4). ‘I have done this evil!’ He means his blood-guiltiness. A wicked man will say he is a sinner—but a child of God says, ‘I have done this evil!’ Peter wept for that particular sin of denying Christ. It is reported that Peter never heard a rooster crow—but he fell a-weeping. There must be a particular repentance, before we have a general pardon.
Gospel tears must drop from the eye of faith. ‘The father of the child cried out with tears, ‘Lord, I believe’ (Mark 9:24). Our disease must make us mourn—but when we look up to our Physician, who has made a remedy of his own blood, we must not mourn without hope. Believing tears are precious. When the clouds of sorrow have overcast the soul, some sunshine of faith must break forth. The soul will be swallowed up of sorrow, it will be drowned in tears—if faith does not keep it up from sinking. Though our tears drop to the earth—yet our faith must reach heaven. After the greatest rain, faith must appear as the rainbow in the cloud. The tears of faith are bottled as precious wine. ‘You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book’ (Psalm 56:8).
Gospel-mourning is joined with self-loathing. The sinner admires himself. The penitent loathes himself. ‘You shall loath yourselves in your own sight for all your evils’ (Ezekiel 20:43). A true penitent is troubled not only for the shameful consequence of sin—but for the loathsome nature of sin; not only the sting of sin—but the deformed face of sin. How did the leper loathe himself! (Leviticus 13:45). The true mourner cries out, O these impure eyes! this heart which is a conclave of wickedness! He not only leaves sin—but loathes sin. He who has fallen in the dirt loathes himself (Hosea 14:1).
Gospel-mourning must be purifying. Our tears must make us more holy. We must so weep for sin, as to weep out sin. Our tears must drown our sins. We must not only mourn—but turn. ‘Turn to me with weeping’ (Joel 2:12). What good is it, to have a watery eye and a whorish heart? It is foolish to say it is day, when the air is full of darkness; so to say you repent, when you draw dark shadows in your life. It is an excellent saying of Augustine, ‘He truly bewails the sins he has committed, who never commits the sins he has bewailed’. True mourning is like the ‘water of jealousy’ (Numbers 5:12-22). It makes the thigh of sin to rot. ‘You broke the heads of the monster in the waters.’ (Psalm 74:13). The heads of our sins, these monsters, are broken in the waters of true repentance. True tears are cleansing. They are like a flood that carries away all the rubbish of our sins away with it. The waters of holy mourning are like the river Jordan wherein Naaman washed and was cleansed of his leprosy. It is reported that there is a river in Sicily where, if the blackest sheep are bathed, they become white; so, though our sins be as scarlet—yet by washing in this river of repentance, they become white as snow. Naturalists say of the serpent, before it goes to drink it vomits out its poison. In this ‘be wise as serpents’. Before you think to drink down the sweet cordials of the promises, cast up the poison that lies at your heart. Do not only mourn for sin—but break from sin.
Gospel-mourning must be joined with hatred of sin. ‘What indignation!’ (2 Corinthians 7:11). We must not only abstain from sin—but abhor sin. The dove hates the least feather of the hawk. A true mourner hates the least motion to sin. A true mourner is a sin-hater. Amnon hated Tamar more than ever he loved her (2 Samuel 13:15). To be a sin-hater implies two things: first, to look upon sin as the most deadly evil—as the essence of all evil. It looks more ghastly than death or hell. Second, to be implacably incensed against it. A sin-hater will never admit of any terms of peace. The war between him and sin is like the war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam. ‘There was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all their days’ (1 Kings 14:30). Anger may be reconciled—hatred cannot. True mourning begins in the love of God—and ends in the hatred of sin.
Gospel-mourning in some cases is joined with restitution. It is as well a sin to violate the name of another—as the chastity of another. If we have eclipsed the good name of others, we are bound to ask them for forgiveness. If we have wronged them in their estate by unjust, fraudulent dealing, we must make them some compensation. Thus Zacchaeus, ‘If I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold’ (Luke 19:8), according to the law of Exodus 22:1. James bids us not only look to the heart but the hand: ‘Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts’ (James 4:8). If you have wronged another, cleanse your hands by restitution. Be assured, without restitution—no remission.
Gospel-mourning must be a speedy mourning. We must take heed of adjourning our repentance, and putting it off until death. As David said, ‘I will pay my vows now’ (Psalm 116:18), so should a Christian say, ‘I will mourn for sin now.’ ‘Blessed are you that weep now’ (Luke 6:21). God has encircled us in the compass of a little time, and charges us immediately to bewail our sins. ‘Now God calls all men everywhere to repent’ (Acts 17:30). We know not whether we may have another day granted us. Oh let us not put off our mourning for sin until the making of our will. Do not think holy mourning is only a deathbed duty. You may seek the blessing with tears, as Esau when it is too late. How long shall I say that I will repent tomorrow? Why not at this instant? ‘Delay brings danger’. Caesar’s deferring to read his letter before he went to the Senate-house, cost him his life. The true mourner makes haste to meet an angry God, as Jacob did his brother; and the present he sends before, is the sacrifice of tears.
Gospel-mourning for sin is perpetual. There are some who at a sermon will shed a few tears—but they are soon dried up. The hypocrite’s sorrow is like a vein opened and presently stopped. The Hebrew word for ‘eye’ signifies also ‘a fountain’, to show that the eye must run like a fountain for sin and not cease; but it must not be like the Libyan fountain which the ancients speak of—in the morning the water is hot, at midday cold. The waters of repentance must not overflow with more heat in the morning, at the first hearing of the gospel; and at midday, in the midst of health and prosperity, grow cold and be ready to freeze. No! it must be a daily weeping. As Paul said, ‘I die daily’ (1 Corinthians 15:31), so a Christian should say, ‘I mourn daily’. Therefore keep open an outflow of godly sorrow, and be sure it is not stopped until death. ‘Let your tears flow like a river. Give yourselves no rest from weeping day or night’ (Lamentations 2:18). It is reported of holy John Bradford that scarcely a day passed him wherein he did not shed some tears for sin. Daily mourning is a good antidote against backsliding. I have read of one that had an epilepsy, and being dipped in seawater, was cured. The washing of our souls daily in the brinish waters of repentance is the best way both to prevent and cure the falling into relapses.
Even God’s own children must mourn after pardon; for God, in pardoning, does not pardon at one instant sins past and future; but as repentance is renewed, so pardon is renewed. Should God by one act pardon sins future as well as past, this would make void part of Christ’s office. What need were there of his intercession, if sin should be pardoned before it be committed? There are sins in the godly of daily incursion, which must be mourned for. Though sin is pardoned, still it rebels; though it be covered, it is not cured (Romans 7:23). There is that in the best Christian, which is contrary to God. There is that in him, which deserves hell—and shall he not mourn? A ship that is always leaking must have the water continually pumped out. While the soul leaks by sin, we must be still pumping at the leak by repentance. Think not, O Christian, that your sins are washed away only by Christ’s blood—but by water and blood. The brazen laver (Exodus 30:18) that the people of Israel were to wash in might be a fit emblem of this spiritual laver, tears and blood; and when holy mourning is thus qualified, this is that ‘sorrowing after a godly sort’ (2 Corinthians 7:11), which makes a Christian eternally blessed.
As we must mourn for our own sins—so we must lay to heart the sins of OTHERS. Thus we should wish with Jeremiah, that our eyes were a fountain of tears, that we might weep day and night for the iniquity of the times. Our blessed Savior mourned for the sins of the Jews: ‘Being grieved for the hardness of their hearts’ (Mark 3:5). And holy David, looking upon the sins of the wicked, his heart was turned into a spring, and his eyes into rivers. ‘Rivers of tears run down my eyes, because they do not keep your law’ (Psalm 119:136). Lot’s righteous soul ‘was vexed with the filthy lives of the wicked’ (2 Peter 2:7). Lot took the sins of Sodom and made spears of them to pierce his own soul. Cyprian says that in the primitive times, when a virgin who vowed herself to religion had defiled her chastity, shame and grief filled the whole congregation.
Have not we cause to mourn for the sins of others? The whole axle of the nation is ready to break under the weight of sin. What an inundation of wickedness is there among us? Mourn for the hypocrisy of the times. Jehu says ‘Come, see my zeal for the Lord’—but it was zeal for the throne (2 Kings 10:16). This is the hypocrisy of some. They entitle God to whatever they do. They make bold with God to use his name to their wickedness; as if a thief should pretend the king’s warrant for his robbery. ‘They build up Zion with blood; yet will they lean upon the Lord and say, Is not the Lord among us?’ (Micah 3:10, 11). Many with a religious kiss smite the gospel under the fifth rib. Could not Ahab be content to kill and take possession—but must he usher it in with religion, and make fasting a preface to his murder? (1 Kings 21:12). The white devil is worst! To hear the name of God in the mouths of scandalous hypocrites, is enough to affright others from the profession of religion.
Mourn for the errors and blasphemies of the nation. There is now a free trade of error. Toleration gives men a patent to sin. Whatever cursed opinion which has been long ago buried in the church—but is now dug out of the grave, and by some worshiped! England is grown as wanton in her religion, as she is antic in her fashions. Did men’s faces alter as fast as their religious opinions, we would not know them.
Mourn for covenant violation. This sin is a flying scroll against England. Breach of covenant is spiritual harlotry, and for this God may name us ‘Not my people’, and give us a bill of divorce (Hosea 1:9).
Mourn for the pride of the nation. Our condition is low—but our hearts are high. Mourn for the profaneness of the land. England is like that man in the gospel who had ‘an unclean demonic spirit’ (Luke 4:33). Mourn for the removing of landmarks (Deuteronomy 27:17). Mourn for the contempt offered to magistracy, the spitting in the face of authority. Mourn that there are so few mourners. Surely if we mourn not for the sins of others, it is to be feared that we are not sensible of our own sins. God looks upon us as guilty of those sins in others—which we do not lament. Our tears may help to quench God’s wrath!
The saints must be sensible of the injuries of God’s church. ‘We wept when we remembered Zion’ (Psalm 137:1). The people of Israel, being debarred from the place of public worship, sat by the rivers weeping. They laid aside all their musical instruments. ‘We hung our harps upon the willows’ (verse 2). We were as far from joy as those willows were from fruit. ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ (verse 4). We were fitter to weep than to sing. The sound of song is not agreeable to mourning.
When we consider the miseries of many Christians in foreign parts, who have been driven from their habitations because they would not espouse the Popish religion; when instead of a Bible, a crucifix; instead of prayers, mass; instead of going to church, they should go on pilgrimage to some saint or relic. When we consider these things, our eyes should run down. Mourn to see God’s church a bleeding vine. Mourn to see Christ’s spouse with ‘garments rolled in blood’.
Methinks I hear England’s death bell ring. Let us shed some tears over dying England. Let us bewail our internal divisions. England’s divisions have been fatal. How can we stand, but by a miracle of free grace? Truth has fallen in the streets—and peace has fled. England’s fine coat of peace, is torn and, like Joseph’s coat, dipped in blood. Peace is the glory of a nation. Some observe, if the top of the beech tree be taken off—that the whole tree withers. Peace is the apex and top of all earthly blessings. This top being cut off, we may truly say the body of the whole nation begins to wither apace.
Mourn for the oppressions of England. The people of this land have laid out their money only to buy mourning.
Though we must always keep open the flow of godly sorrow—yet there are some seasons wherein our tears should overflow, as the water sometimes rises higher.
There are three special SEASONS of extraordinary mourning, when it should be as it were high-water in the soul:
1. When there are tokens of God’s wrath breaking forth in the nation. England has been under God’s black rod these many years. The Lord has drawn his sword. O that our tears may blunt the edge of this sword! When it is a time of treading down, now is a time of breaking up the fallow ground of our hearts. ‘Therefore said I, look away from me, I will weep bitterly for it is a time of treading down’ (Isaiah 22:4, 5). ‘A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds . . . therefore turn to me with weeping and with mourning’ (Joel 2:2, 12). Rain follows thunder. When God thunders in a nation by his judgements, now the showers of tears must distill. When God smites upon our back, we must ‘smite upon our thigh’ (Jeremiah 31:19). When God seems to stand upon the ‘threshold of the temple’ (Ezekiel 10:4), as if he were ready to take his wings and fly, then is it a time to lie weeping between ‘the porch and the altar’. If the Lord seems to be packing up and carrying away his gospel—it is now high time to mourn, that by our tears possibly his ‘repentings may be kindled’ (Hosea 11:8).
2. Before the performing solemn duties of God’s worship, as fasting or receiving the Lord’s Supper. Christian, are you about to seek God in an extraordinary manner? ‘Seek him sorrowing’ (Luke 2:48). Would you have the smiles of God’s face, the kisses of his lips? Set open all the springs of mourning, and then God will draw near to you in an ordinance and say, ‘Here I am!’ (Isaiah 58:9). When Jacob wept, then he ‘found God in Bethel’ (Hosea 12:4). ‘He called the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen God face to face’ (Genesis 32:30). Give Christ the wine of your tears to drink—and in the sacrament he will give you the wine of his blood to drink.
3. After scandalous relapses. Though I will not say that there is no mercy for sins of relapse—yet I say there is no mercy without bitter mourning. Scandalous sins reflect dishonor upon religion (2 Samuel 12:14). Therefore now our cheeks should be covered with blushing, and our eyes bedewed with tears. Peter, after his denying Christ, wept bitterly. Christian, has God given you over to any enormous sin as a just reward of your pride and carnal security? Go into the ‘weeping bath’. Sins of infirmity injure the soul—but scandalous sins wound the gospel. Lesser sins grieve the Spirit—but greater sins vex the Spirit (Isaiah 63:10). And if that blessed Dove weeps, shall not we weep? When the air is dark then the dew falls. When we have by scandalous sin darkened the luster of the gospel, now is the time for the dew of holy tears to fall from our eyes.
Next to the seasons of mourning, let us consider the DEGREE of mourning.
The mourning for sin must be a very great mourning. The Greek word imports a great sorrow, such as is seen at the funeral of a dear friend. ‘They shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one that mourns for his only son’ (Zechariah 12:10). The sorrow for an only child is very great. Such must be the sorrow for sin. ‘In that day there shall be great mourning, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon’ (verse 11). In that valley Josiah, that famous and pious prince, was cut off by an untimely death, at whose funeral there was bitter lamentation. Thus bitterly must we bewail, not the death—but the life of our sins. Now then, to set forth the degree of sorrow.
Our mourning for sin must be so great as to exceed all other grief. Eli’s mourning for the ark was such that it swallowed up the loss of his two children. Spiritual grief must preponderate over all other grief. We should mourn more for sin than for the loss of friends or estate.
We should endeavor to have our sorrow rise up to the same height and proportion as our sin does. Manasseh was a great sinner—and a great mourner. ‘He humbled himself greatly’ (2 Chronicles 33:12). Manasseh made the streets run with blood—and he made the prison in Babylon run with tears. Peter wept bitterly. A true mourner labors that his repentance may be as eminent as his sin.
Having shown the nature of mourning, I shall next show what is the OPPOSITE to holy mourning.
The opposite to mourning is ‘hardness of heart’, which in Scripture is called ‘a heart of stone’ (Ezekiel 36:26). a heart of stone is far from mourning and repenting. This heart of stone is known by two symptoms:
One symptom is insensibility. A stone is not sensible of anything. Lay weight upon it; or grind it to powder—it does not feel. So it is with a hard heart. It is insensible to both its own sin and God’s wrath. The stone in the kidneys is felt—but not the stone in the heart. ‘Having lost all sensitivity.’ (Ephesians 4:19).
A heart of stone is known by its inflexibility. A stone will not bend. That is hard, which does not yield to the touch. So it is with a hard heart. It will not comply with God’s command. It will not stoop to Christ’s scepter. A heart of stone will sooner break, than bend by repentance. It is so far from yielding to God, that like the anvil—it beats back the hammer. It ‘always resists the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 7:51).
Oh Christians, if you would be spiritual mourners, take heed of this stone of the heart. ‘Harden not your hearts’ (Hebrews 3:7,8). A stony heart is the worst heart. If it were bronze, it might be melted in the furnace; or it might be bent with the hammer. But a stony heart is such, that only the arm of God can break it–and only the blood of Christ can soften it! Oh the misery of a hard heart! A hard heart is void of all grace. While the wax is hard, it will not take the impression of the seal. The heart, while it is hard, will not take the stamp of grace. It must first be made tender and melting. The plough of the Word will not penetrate a hard heart. A hard heart is good for nothing—but to make fuel for hellfire. ‘Because of your hardness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath’ (Romans 2:5). Hell is full of hard hearts—there is not one soft heart there. There is weeping there—but no softness. We read of ‘vessels of his wrath–prepared for destruction’ (Romans 9:22). Hardness of heart, fits these vessels for hell, and makes them like withered wood, which is fit only to burn.
Hardness of heart makes a man’s condition worse than all his other sins besides. If one is guilty of great sins—yet if he can mourn, there is hope. Repentance unravels sin, and makes sin not to be. But hardness of heart binds guilt fast upon the soul. It seals a man under wrath. It is not heinousness of sin—but hardness of heart which damns. This makes the sin against the Holy Spirit incapable of mercy, because the sinner who has committed it, is incapable of repentance.
Sundry sharp reproofs
This doctrine draws up a charge against several sorts of people:
1. Those who think themselves good Christians—yet have not learned this art of holy mourning. Luther calls mourning ‘a rare herb’. Men have tears to shed for other things—but have none to spare for their sins. There are many murmurers—but few mourners. Most are like the stony ground which ‘lacked moisture’ (Luke 8:6).
We have many cry out of hard times—but they are not sensible of hard hearts. Hot and dry is the worst temper of the body. To be hot in sin, and to be so dry as to have no tears—is the worst temper of the soul. How many are like Gideon’s dry fleece, and like the mountains of Gilboa! There is no dew upon them. Did Christ bleed for sin—and can you not weep! If God’s bottle is not filled with tears—his vial will be filled with wrath! We have many sinners in Zion—but few mourners in Zion. It is with most people as with a man on the top of a mast; the winds blow and the waves beat, and the ship is in danger of ship wreck—and he is fast asleep! So when the waves of sin have even covered men and the stormy wind of God’s wrath blows, and is ready to blow them into hell—yet they are asleep in carnal security.
2. This doctrine reproves them who instead of weeping for sin, spend their days in mirth and jollity. Instead of mourners we have jesters. ‘They sing with tambourine and harp. They make merry to the sound of the flute’ (Job 21:12, 13). ‘They do not give themselves to mourning—but follow after their pleasures’. They live epicures, and die atheists. James bids us ‘turn our laughter to mourning’ (James 4:9). But they turn their mourning to laughter. Samson was brought forth to amuse the Philistines (Judges 16:25). The jovial sinner amuses the devil. It is a saying of Theophylact, ‘It is one of the worst sights to see a sinner go laughing to hell.’ How unseasonable is it to take the harp and violin—when God is taking the sword! ‘A sword is being sharpened and polished. It is being prepared for terrible slaughter; it will flash like lightning! Now will you laugh?’ (Ezekiel 21:9, 10). This is a sin which enrages God.
‘The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you to weep and mourn. He told you to shave your heads in sorrow for your sins and to wear clothes of sackcloth to show your remorse. But instead, you dance and play; you feast on meat, and drink wine. The Lord Almighty has revealed to me that this sin will never be forgiven you until the day you die. That is the judgment of the Lord, the Lord Almighty’ (Isaiah 22:12-14). That is, this your sin shall not be done away by any expiatory sacrifice—but vengeance shall pursue you forever!
3. This doctrine reproves those who, instead of mourning for sin, rejoice in sin (Proverbs 2:14); ‘Who take pleasure in iniquity’ (2 Thessalonians 2:12). Wicked men in this sense are worse than the damned in hell, for they take little pleasure in their sins. There are some so impudently profane, that they will make themselves and others merry with their sins. Sin is a soul sickness (Luke 5:31). Will a man make merry with his disease? Ah wretch! did Christ bleed for sin—and do you laugh at sin! Is it a time for a man to be jesting when he is upon the scaffold, and his head is to be stricken off? You who laugh at sin now, ‘So I will laugh when you are in trouble! I will mock you when disaster overtakes you—when calamity overcomes you like a storm, when you are engulfed by trouble, and when anguish and distress overwhelm you!’ Proverbs 1:24-27
4. This doctrine reproves those that cry down mourning for sin. They are like the Philistines who stopped-up the wells (Genesis 26:15). These would stop-up the wells of godly sorrow. Antinomians say this is a legal doctrine—but Christ here preaches it: ‘Blessed are those who mourn.’ And the apostles preached it, ‘And they went out and preached that men should repent’ (Mark 6:12). Holy sincerity will put us upon mourning for sin. He who has the heart of a child cannot but weep for his unkindness against God. Mourning for sin is the very fruit and product of the Spirit of grace (Zechariah 12:10). Such as cry down repentance, cry down the Spirit of grace. Mourning for sin is the only way to keep off wrath from us. Such as with Samson would break this pillar, go about to pull down the vengeance of God upon the land. To all such I say, as Peter to Simon Magus, ‘Repent therefore of this your wickedness and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you’, O sinner (Acts 8:22). Repent that you have cried down repentance.
MOTIVES to holy mourning
Let me exhort Christians to holy mourning. I now persuade to such a mourning as will prepare the soul for blessedness. Oh that our hearts were spiritual stills, distilling the water of holy tears! Christ’s doves weep. ‘They that escape shall be like doves of the valleys, all of them mourning, everyone for his iniquity’ (Ezekiel 7:16).
There are several divine motives to holy mourning:
1. Tears cannot be put to a better use. If you weep for outward losses, you lose your tears. It is like a shower upon a rock, which does no good; but tears for sin are blessed tears. ‘Blessed are those who mourn.’ These poison our corruptions; salt-water kills the worms. The brinish water of repenting tears will help to kill that worm of sin which would gnaw the conscience.
2. Gospel-mourning is an evidence of grace. ‘I will pour upon the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace, and they shall mourn . . .’ (Zechariah 12:10). The Holy Spirit descended on Christ like a dove (Luke 3:22). The dove is a weeping creature. Where there is a dove-like weeping, it is a good sign the Spirit of God has descended there. Weeping for sin is a sign of the new birth. As soon as the child is born, it weeps: ‘And behold the babe wept’ (Exodus 2:6). To weep kindly for sin is a good sign we are born of God. Mourning shows a ‘heart of flesh’ (Ezekiel 36:26). A stone will not melt. When the heart is in a melting frame, it is a sign the heart of stone is taken away.
3. The preciousness of tears. Tears dropping from a mournful, penitent eye, are like water dropping from the roses—very sweet and precious to God. A fountain in the garden makes it pleasant. That heart is most delightful to God—which has a fountain of sorrow running in it. ‘Mary stood at Christ’s feet weeping’ (Luke 7:38). Her tears were more fragrant than her ointment. The incense, when it is broken, smells sweetest. When the heart is broken for sin, then our services give forth their sweetest perfume. ‘There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents’ (Luke 15:7). Whereupon Bernard calls tears ‘the wine of angels’. And surely, God delights much in tears, else he would not keep a bottle for them (Psalm 56:8). One calls tears ‘a fat sacrifice’, which under the law was most acceptable (Leviticus 3:3). Jerome calls mourning a plank after shipwreck. Chrysostom calls tears a sponge to wipe off sin. Tears are powerful orators for mercy. Eusebius says there was an altar at Athens, on which they poured no other sacrifice but tears, as if the heathens thought there was no better way to pacify their angry gods, than by weeping. Jacob wept and ‘had power over the angel’ (Hosea 12:4).
Tears melt the heart of God. When a malefactor comes weeping to the bar, this melts the judge’s heart towards him. When a man comes weeping in prayer and smites on his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 18:13), this melts God’s heart towards him. Prayer (says Jerome) inclines God to show mercy; tears compel him. God seals his pardons upon melting hearts. Tears, though they are silent—yet have a voice, ‘The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping!’ (Psalm 6:8). Tears wash away sin. Rain melts and washes away a ball of snow. Repenting tears wash away sin. That sin, says Ambrose, which cannot be defended by argument, may be washed away by tears.
4. The sweetness of tears. Mourning is the way to solid joy. ‘The sweetest wine is that which comes out of the winepress of the eyes’, says Chrysostom. The soul is never more enlarged than when it can weep. Closet tears are better than court music. When the heart is sad, weeping eases it by giving vent. The soul of a Christian is most eased when it can vent itself by holy mourning. Chrysostom observes that David who was the great mourner in Israel—was the sweet singer in Israel. ‘My tears were my food’ (Psalm 42:3). Ambrose says, ‘No food so sweet as tears.’ ‘The tears of the penitent,’ says Bernard, ‘are sweeter than all worldly joy.’ A Christian thinks himself sometimes in the suburbs of heaven, when he can weep. When Hannah had wept, she went away and was no more sad. Sugar when it melts is sweetest. When a Christian melts in tears, now he has the sweetest joy. When the daughter of Pharaoh descended into the river, she found a babe there among the reeds; so when we descend into the river of repenting tears, we find the babe Jesus there who shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. Well therefore might Chrysostom solemnly bless God for giving us this laver of tears to wash in.
5. A mourner for sin not only does good to himself but to others. He helps to keep off wrath from a land. As when Abraham was going to strike the blow, the angel stayed his hand (Genesis 22:12), so when God is going to destroy a nation, the mourner stays his hand. Tears in the child’s eye sometimes move the angry father to spare the child. Penitential tears melt God’s heart and bind his hand. Jeremiah, who was a weeping prophet, was a great intercessor. God says to him, ‘Pray not for this people’ (Jeremiah 7:16), as if the Lord had said, ‘Jeremiah, so powerful are your prayers and tears, that if you pray I cannot deny you.’ Tears have a mighty influence upon God. Surely God has some mourners in the land, or he would have destroyed us before now.
6. Holy mourning is preventing remedy. Our mourning for sin here—will prevent mourning in hell. Hell is a place of weeping (Matthew 8:12). The damned mingle their drink with weeping. God is said to hold his bottle for our tears (Psalm 56:8). Those who will not shed a bottle-full of tears shall hereafter shed rivers of tears. ‘Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep’ (Luke 6:25). You have sometimes seen sugar lying in a damp place dissolve to water. All the sugared joys of the wicked dissolve at last to the water of tears. Now, tears will do us good. Now, it is seasonable weeping. It is like a shower in the spring. If we do not weep now, it will be too late in hell. Could we hear the language of the damned, they are now cursing themselves that they did not weep soon enough. Oh is it not better to have our hell here, than hereafter? Is it not better to shed repenting tears, than despairing tears? He who weeps here is a blessed mourner. He who weeps in hell is a cursed mourner. The physician by bleeding the patient prevents death. By the opening a vein of godly sorrow, we prevent the death of our souls.
7. There is no other way the Gospel prescribes to blessedness, but mourning. ‘Blessed are those who mourn’. This is the road that leads to the new Jerusalem. There may be several ways leading to a city; some go one way, some another; but there is but one way to heaven, and that is by the house of weeping (Acts 26:20). Perhaps a man may think thus, ‘If I cannot mourn for sin, I will get to heaven some other way. I will go to church; I will give alms; I will lead a civil life.’ Nay—but I tell you there is but one way to blessedness, and that is, through the valley of tears. If you do not go this way, you will miss of Paradise. ‘I tell you, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:3). There are many lines leading to the center—but the heavenly center has but one line leading to it, and that is a tear dropping from the eye of faith. A man may have a disease in his body that twenty medicines will heal. Sin is a disease of the soul which makes it sick unto death. Now there is but one medicine will heal, and that is the medicine of repentance.
8. Consider what need every Christian has to be conversant in holy mourning. A man may take physic when he has no need of it. Many go to London when they have no need. It is rather out of curiosity than necessity. But O what need is there for everyone to go into the weeping bath! Think what a sinner you have been. You have filled God’s book with your debts, and what need you have to fill his bottle with your tears! You have lived in secret sin. God enjoins you this penance, ‘Mourn for sin’. But perhaps some may say, I have no need of mourning, for I have lived a very civil life. Go home and mourn because you are only civil. Many a man’s civility, being rested upon—has damned him! It is sad for men to be without repentance—but it is worse to have no need for repentance (Luke 15:7).
9. Tears are but finite. It is but a while that we shall weep. After a few showers that fall from our eyes, we shall have a perpetual sunshine. In heaven the bottle of tears is stopped. ‘God shall wipe away all tears . . .’ (Revelation 7:17). When sin shall cease, tears shall cease. ‘Weeping may endure for a night—but joy comes in the morning’ (Psalm 30:5). In the morning of the ascension, then shall all tears be wiped away.
10. The benefit of holy mourning. The best of our commodities come by water. Mourning makes the soul fruitful in grace. When a shower falls, the herbs and plants grow. ‘I will water you with my tears, O Heshbon!’ (Isaiah 16:9). I may allude to it; tears water our graces and make them flourish. ‘He sends his springs into the valleys’ (Psalm 104:10). That is the reason the valleys flourish with corn, because the springs run there. Where the springs of sorrow run, there the heart bears a fruitful crop. Leah was tender-eyed; she had a watery eye—and was fruitful. The tender-eyed Christian usually brings forth more of the fruits of the Spirit. A weeping eye is the water-pot to water our graces!
Again, mourning fences us against the devil’s temptations. Temptations are called ‘fiery darts’ (Ephesians 6:16), because indeed they set the soul on fire. Temptations enrage anger, inflame lust. Now the waters of holy mourning quench these fiery darts. Wet gunpowder will not easily take fire. When the heart is wetted and moistened with sorrow, it will not so easily take the fire of temptation. Tears are the best engines and waterworks to quench the devil’s fire; and if there is so much profit and benefit in gospel-sorrow, then let every Christian wash his face every morning in the laver of tears.
11. And lastly, to have a melting frame of spirit is a great sign of God’s presence with us in an ordinance. It is a sign that the Sun of Righteousness has risen upon us, when our frozen hearts thaw and melt for sin. It is a saying of Bernard, ‘By this you may know whether you have met with God in a duty—when you find yourselves in a melting and mourning frame’. We are apt to measure everything, by comfort. We think we never have God’s presence in an ordinance, unless we have joy. Herein we are like Thomas. ‘Unless (says he) I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, I will not believe’ (John 20:25). So are we apt to say that, unless we have incomes of comfort, we will not believe that we have found God in a duty; but if our hearts can melt kindly in tears of love, this is a real sign that God has been with us. As Jacob said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not’ (Genesis 28:16). So, Christian, when your heart breaks for sin and dissolves into holy tears, God is in this duty, though you do not know it.
Methinks all that has been said should make us spiritual mourners. Perhaps we have tried to mourn and cannot. But as a man who has dug so many fathoms deep for water and can find none, at last digs until he finds a spring; so though we have been digging for the water of tears and can find none—yet let us weigh all that has been said and set our hearts again to work, and perhaps at last we may say, as Isaac’s servants said, ‘We have found water!’ (Genesis 26:32). When the herbs are pressed, the watery juice comes out. These eleven serious motives may press out tears from the eye!
But some may say, My constitution is such that I cannot weep. I may as well go to squeeze a rock as think to get a tear.
I answer—but if you cannot weep for sin—can you not grieve? Heart mourning is best. There may be godly sorrow—where there are no tears. The vessel may be full though it lacks vent. It is not so much the weeping eye which God respects—as the broken heart. Yet I would be reluctant to stop their tears of those who can weep. God stood looking on Hezekiah’s tears: ‘I have seen your tears’ (Isaiah 38:5). David’s tears made music in God’s ears. ‘The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping’ (Psalm 6:8). It is a sight fit for angels to behold—tears as pearls dropping from a penitent eye!
What shall we do to get our heart into this mourning frame? Do two things. Take heed of those things which will stop these channels of mourning; put yourselves upon the use of all means that will help forward holy mourning. Take heed of those things which will stop the current of tears.
Nine HINDRANCES of mourning.
1. The love of sin. The love of sin is like a stone in the pipe, which stops up the current of water. The love of sin makes sin taste sweet, and this sweetness in sin bewitches the heart. It is worse to love sin than to commit it. A man may be overtaken with sin (Galatians 6:1). He who has stumbled upon sin unawares will weep—but the love of sin hardens the heart and keeps the devil in possession. In true mourning there must be a grieving for sin. But how can a man grieve for that sin which his heart is in love with? Oh, take heed of this sweet poison! The love of sin freezes the soul in impenitence.
2. Despair. Despair affronts God, undervalues Christ’s blood and damns the soul! ‘But they will say—It’s hopeless. We will continue to follow our plans, and each of us will continue to act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart’ (Jeremiah 18:12). This is the language of despair. I had as good follow my sins still—and be damned for something. Despair presents God to the soul as a judge clad in the garments of vengeance (Isaiah 59:17). The despair of Judas was in some sense worse than his treason. Despair destroys repentance, for the proper ground of repentance is mercy. ‘The goodness of God leads you to repentance’ (Romans 2:4)—but despair hides mercy out of sight—as the cloud covered the Ark. Oh, take heed of this. Despair is an irrational sin; there is no ground for it. The Lord shows mercy to thousands. Why may you not be one of a thousand? The wings of God’s mercy, like the wings of the Cherubim, are stretched out to every humble penitent. Though you have been a great sinner—yet if you are a weeping sinner—there is a golden scepter of mercy held forth (Psalm 103:11). Despair locks up the soul in impenitence!
3. A conceit that this mourning will make us melancholy. ‘We shall drown all our joy in our tears!’ But this is a mistake. Lose our joy? Tell me, what joy can there be in a condemned condition? What joy does sin afford? Is not sin compared to a wound and bruise? (Isaiah 1:6). David had his broken bones (Psalm 51:8). Is there any comfort in having the bones out of joint? Does not sin breed a palpitation and trembling of heart? (Deuteronomy 28:65, 66). Is it any joy for a man to be a ‘terror to himself’? (Jeremiah 20:4). Surely of the sinner’s laughter it may be said, ‘It is mad!’ (Ecclesiastes 2:2), whereas holy mourning is the breeder of joy. It does not eclipse joy—but refines our joy and makes it better. The prodigal dated his joy from the time of his repentance. ‘Then they began to be merry’ (Luke 15:24).
4. Checking the motions of the Spirit. The Spirit sets us a-mourning. He causes all our spring-tides. ‘All my springs are in you’ (Psalm 87:7). Oft we meet with gracious motions to prayer and repentance. Now when we stifle these motions, which is called a quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19), then we do, as it were, hinder the tide from coming in. When the dew falls, then the ground is wet. When the Spirit of God falls as dew in his influences upon the soul, then it is moistened with sorrow. But if the Spirit withdraws, the soul is like Gideon’s dry fleece. A ship can as well sail without the wind, a bird can as well fly without wings—as we can mourn without the Spirit! Take heed of grieving the Spirit. Do not drive away this sweet Dove from the ark of your soul. The Spirit is ‘gentle and tender’. If he is grieved, he may say, ‘I will come no more’—and if he once withdraws, we cannot mourn.
5. Presumption of mercy. Who will take pains with his heart or mourn for sin—who thinks he may be saved at a cheaper rate? How many, spider-like, suck damnation out of the sweet flower of God’s mercy? Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save sinners, is the occasion of many a man’s perishing. ‘Oh,’ says one, ‘Christ died for me. He has done all. What need I pray or mourn?’ Many a bold sinner plucks death from the tree of life, and through presumption, goes to hell by that ladder of Christ’s blood, by which others go to heaven. It is sad when the goodness of God, which should ‘lead to repentance’ (Romans 2:4), leads to presumption. O sinner, do not hope yourself into hell. Take heed of being damned upon a mistake. You say God is merciful, and therefore you go on securely in sin. But whom is mercy for? The presuming sinner or the mourning sinner? ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him’ (Isaiah 55:7). No mercy without forsaking sin, and no forsaking sin without mourning!
If a king should say to a company of rebels, ‘Whoever comes in and submits shall have mercy’, such as stood out in rebellion could not claim the benefit of the pardon. God makes a proclamation of mercy to the mourner—but such as are not mourners have nothing to do with mercy. The mercy of God is like the ark, which none but the priests were to meddle with. None may touch this golden ark of mercy but such as are ‘priests unto God’ (Revelation 1:6), and have offered up the sacrifice of tears.
6. A conceit of the smallness of sin. ‘Is it not a little one?’ (Genesis 19:20). The devil holds the small end of the telescope to sinners. To imagine that sin less than it is, is very dangerous. An opinion of the littleness of sin keeps us from the use of means. Who will be earnest for a physician, who thinks it is but a trivial disease? And who will seek to God with a penitent heart for mercy, who thinks sin is but a slight thing? But to take off this wrong conceit about sin, and that we may look upon it with watery eyes—consider that sin cannot be little, because it is against the Majesty of heaven. There is no small treason, it being against the king’s person. Every sin is sinful, therefore damnable. A penknife or stiletto makes but a little wound—but either of them may kill as well as a large sword. There is death and hell in every sin. “The wages of sin is death!” (Romans 6:23). What was it for Adam to pluck an apple? But that lost him his crown! It is not with sin as it is with diseases—some are mortal, some not mortal. The least sin without repentance, will be a lock and bolt to shut men out of heaven.
View sin in the red glass of Christ’s sufferings. The least sin cost his blood. Would you take a true view of sin? Go to Golgotha. Jesus Christ was fain to veil his glory and lose his joy, and pour out his soul an offering for the least sin. Read the greatness of your sin in the deepness of Christ’s wounds. Let not Satan cast such a mist before your eyes that you cannot see sin in its right colors. Remember, not only do great rivers fall into the sea—but little brooks. Not only do great sins carry men to hell—but lesser sins as well.
7. Procrastination; or an opinion that it is too soon as yet to tune the penitential string. “When the lamp is almost out, the strength exhausted, and old age comes on—then mourning for sin will be in season—but it is too soon now.” That I may show how pernicious this opinion is, and that I may roll away this stone from the mouth of the well, that so the waters of repentance may be drawn forth—let me propose these four serious and weighty considerations:
First, do you know what it is to be in the state of condemnation? And will you say it is too soon to get out of it? You are under ‘the wrath of God’ (John 3:36), and is it too soon to get from under the dropping of this vial? You are under ‘the power of Satan’ (Acts 26:18), and is it too soon to get out of the enemy’s quarters?
Second, men do not argue thus in other cases. They do not say, ‘It is too soon to be rich.’ They will not put off getting the world until old age. No! here they take the first opportunity. It is not too soon to be rich—and is it too soon to be saved from sin? Is not repentance a matter of the greatest consequence? Is it not more needful for men to lament their sin, than augment their estate?
Third, God’s call to mourning is always in the present. ‘Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts’ (Hebrews 3:7, 8). A general besieging a garrison summons it to surrender upon such a day—or he will storm it. Such are God’s summons to repentance. ‘Today if you will hear his voice’. Sinners, when Satan has tempted you to any wickedness, you have not said, ‘It is too soon, Satan’—but have immediately embraced his temptation. You have not put the devil off—and will you put God off?
Fourth, it is a foolish thing to adjourn and put off mourning for sin, for the longer you put off holy mourning—the harder you will find the work when you come to it! A bone which is out of joint is easier to set at first—than if you let it go longer. A disease is sooner cured at first—than if it is let alone until advance stages come. You may easily wade over the waters when they are low but if you wait stay until they are risen, then they will be beyond your depth. O sinner, the more treasons against God you commit—the more do you incense him against you, and the harder it will be to get your pardon. The longer you spin out the time of your sinning—the more work you make for repentance!
To adjourn, and put off mourning for sin is folly in respect of the uncertainty of life. How does the procrastinating sinner know that he shall live to be old? ‘What is your life? It is but a vapor’ (James 4:14). How soon may sickness arrest you, and death strike off your head! May not your sun set at noon? Oh then what impudence is it to put off mourning for sin, and to make a long work, when death is about to make a short work? Caesar, deferring to read the letter which was sent to him, was stabbed in the senate house.
It is folly to put off all until the last—in respect of the improbability of finding mercy. Though God has given you space to repent, he may deny you grace to repent. When God calls for mourning and you are deaf—when you call for mercy God may be dumb ‘I called you so often, but you didn’t come. I reached out to you, but you paid no attention. You ignored my advice and rejected the correction I offered. So I will laugh when you are in trouble! I will mock you when disaster overtakes you— when calamity overcomes you like a storm, when you are engulfed by trouble, and when anguish and distress overwhelm you. I will not answer when they cry for help. Even though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me!’ (Proverbs 1:24-28). Think of it seriously. God may take the latter time to judge you in—because you did not take the former time to repent in.
To put off our solemn turning to God until old age, or sickness, is high imprudence, because ‘death bed repentance’ is for the most part insincere and spurious. Though true mourning for sin be never too late—yet ‘death bed repentance’ is seldom true. That repentance is seldom true-hearted, which is grey-headed. It is disputable whether these death-tears are not shed more out of fear of hell—than love to God. The mariner in a storm throws his goods overboard—not that he hates them—but he is afraid they will sink the ship. When men falls to weeping-work late and would cast their sins overboard—it is for the most part, only for fear lest they should sink the ship and drown in hell! It is a great question whether the sickbed penitent begins to mourn—only because he can keep his sins no longer. All which considered may make men take heed of running their souls upon such a desperate hazard, as to put all their work for heaven, upon the last hour.
8. Delay in the execution of justice. “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). God forbears punishing—therefore men forbear repenting. He does not smite upon their back by correction—therefore they do not smite upon their thigh by humiliation (Jeremiah 31:19). The sinner thinks thus: ‘God has spared me all this while; he has eked out patience into longsuffering; surely he will not punish.’ ‘He says to himself—God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees’ (Psalm 10:11). In infinite patience God sometimes adjourns his judgements a while longer. He is not willing to punish (2 Peter 3:9). God is like the bee, which naturally gives honey—but stings only when it is provoked. The Lord would have men make their peace with him (Isaiah 27:5). God is not like a hasty creditor who requires the payment of the debt, and will give no time for the payment. He is not only gracious—but ‘waits to be gracious’ (Isaiah 30:18). But God by his patience, would bribe sinners to repentance. But, alas, how is his patience abused! God’s longsuffering hardens most. Because God stops the vial of his wrath, sinners stop the conduit of tears! That the patience of God may not (through our corruption) obstruct holy mourning, let sinners remember:
First, God’s patience has bounds set to it (Genesis 6:3). Though men will not set bounds to their sin—yet God sets bounds to his patience. There is a time when the sun of God’s patience will set, and, being once set—it never returns any degrees backwards. The lease of patience will soon be run out! There is a time when God says, ‘My Spirit shall no longer strive.’ The angel cried, ‘The hour of judgement has come’ (Revelation 14:7). Perhaps at the next sin you commit—God may say, ‘Your hour has now come!’
Second, to be hardened under God’s patience, makes our condition far worse. Incensed justice will revenge abused patience! God was patient towards Sodom—but when they did not repent, he made the fire and brimstone flame about their ears! Sodom, which was once the wonder of God’s patience—is now a standing monument of God’s severity. All the plants and fruits were destroyed, and, as Tertullian says—that place still smells of fire and brimstone. Long forbearance is no forgiveness. God may keep off the stroke awhile—but justice is not dead—but only sleeps. God has leaden feet but iron hands. The longer God is taking his blow—the sorer it will be when it comes. The longer a stone is falling—the heavier it will be at last. The longer God is whetting his sword—the sharper it cuts. Sins against God’s patience are of a deeper dye; they are worse than the sins of the devils. The fallen angels never sinned against God’s patience. How dreadful will their condition be—who sin because God is patient with them. For every crumb of patience, God puts a drop of wrath into his vial. The longer God forbears with a sinner, the more interest he is sure to pay in hell.
9. Mirth and music. ‘You sing idle songs to the sound of the harp. You drink wine by the bowlful, and you perfume yourselves with exotic fragrances.’ (Amos 6:5, 6). Instead of the dirge, they sing idle songs. Many sing away sorrow, and drown their tears in wine. The sweet waters of pleasure destroy the bitter waters of mourning. How many go dancing to hell—like those fish which swim pleasantly down into the Dead Sea!
Let us take heed of all these hindrances to holy tears. ‘Let the harp play sad music, and the flute accompany those who weep.’ (Job 30:31).
Some HELPS to mourning
Having removed the obstructions, let me in propound some helps to holy mourning.
1. Set SIN continually before you. ‘My sin is ever before me’ (Psalm 51:3). David, that he might be a mourner, kept his eye fully upon sin. See what sin is—and then tell me if there be not enough in it to draw forth tears! I know not what name, is bad enough to give to sin. One calls it the devil’s excrement. Sin is a combining of all evils. It is the spirit of evil distilled. Sin dishonors God—it denies God’s omniscience, it derides his patience, it distrusts his faithfulness. Sin tramples upon God’s law, slights his love, grieves his Spirit. Sin wrongs us; sin shames us. ‘Sin is a reproach to any people’ (Proverbs 14:34). Sin has made us naked. It has plucked off our robe—and taken our crown from us! Sin has spoiled us of our glory. Nay, it has not only made us naked—but impure. ‘I saw you polluted in your blood’ (Ezekiel 16:6). Sin has not only taken off our golden robe—but it has put upon us ‘filthy garments’ (Zechariah 3:3).
God made us ‘after his likeness’ (Genesis 1:26)—but sin has made us ‘like the beasts which perish’ (Psalm 49:20). We have all become brutish in our affections. Nor has sin made us only like the beasts—but like the devil (John 8:44). Sin has drawn the devil’s picture upon man’s heart. Sin stabs us. The sinner, like the jailer, draws a sword to kill himself (Acts 16:27). He is bereaved of his judgement and, like the man in the gospel, possessed with the devils, ‘he cuts himself with stones’ (Mark 5:5), though he has such a stone in his heart that he does not feel it. Every sin is a stroke at the soul. So many sins—so many wounds! Every blow given to the tree, helps forward the felling of the tree. Every sin is a hewing and chopping down the soul for hellfire! If then there is all this evil in sin—if this forbidden fruit has such a bitter core—it should make us mourn. Our hearts should be the spring—and our eyes the rivers!
2. If we would be mourners, let us be orators. Beg a spirit of contrition. Pray to God that he will put us in mourning, that he will give us a melting frame of heart. Let us beg Achsah’s blessing, even ‘springs of water’ (Joshua 15:19). Let us pray that our hearts may be spiritual stills—dropping tears into God’s bottle. Let us pray that we who have the poison of the serpent—may have the tears of the dove. The Spirit of God is a spirit of mourning. Let us pray that God would pour out that Spirit of grace upon us, whereby we may ‘look on him whom we have pierced and mourn for him’ (Zechariah 12:10).
God must breathe in his Spirit—before we can breathe out our sorrows. The Spirit of God is like the fire in a still—which sends up the dews of grace in the heart and causes them to drop from the eyes. It is this blessed Spirit whose gentle breath causes our spices to smell—and our waters to flow! If the spring of mourning is once set open in the heart—there can lack no joy. As tears flow out—comfort flows in! This leads to the second part of the text, ‘They shall be comforted’.
The COMFORTS belonging to mourners
Having already presented to your view the dark side of the text, I shall now show you the bright side, “They shall be comforted.” Where observe:
1. Mourning goes before comfort—as the lancing of a wound precedes the cure. The Antinomian talks of comfort—but cries down mourning for sin. He is like a foolish patient who, having a pill prescribed him, licks the sugar—but throws away the pill. The libertine is all for joy and comfort. He licks the sugar—but throws away the bitter pill of repentance. If ever we have true comfort we must have it in God’s way and method. Sorrow for sin ushers in joy: ‘I will restore comforts to him, and to his mourners’ (Isaiah 57:18). That is the true sunshine of joy—which comes after a shower of tears. We may as well expect a crop without seed—as comfort without gospel-mourning.
2. Observe that God keeps his best wine until last. First he prescribes mourning for sin—and then sets open the wine of consolation. The devil does quite contrary. He shows the best first—and keeps the worst until last. First, he shows the wine sparkling in the glass—then comes the ‘biting of the serpent’ (Proverbs 23:32). Satan sets his dainty dishes before men. He presents sin to them colored with beauty, sweetened with pleasure, silvered with profit—and then afterwards the sad reckoning is brought in! He showed Judas first the silver bait—and then stuck him with the hook! This is the reason why sin has so many followers, because it shows the best first. First, the golden crowns—then comes the lions’ teeth! (Revelation 9:7, 8).
But God shows the worst first. First he prescribes a bitter portion— and then brings a cordial, ‘They shall be comforted.’
3. Observe, gospel tears are not lost. They are seeds of comfort. While the penitent pours out tears, God pours in joy. ‘If you would be cheerful’ (says Chrysostom), ‘mourn.’ ‘Those who sow in tears—shall reap in joy’ (Psalm 126:5). It was the end of Christ’s anointing and coming into the world—that he might comfort those who mourn (Isaiah 61:3). Christ had the oil of gladness poured on him (as Chrysostom says) that he might pour it upon the mourner. Well then, may the apostle call it ‘a repentance not to be repented of’ (2 Corinthians 7:10). A man’s drunkenness is to be repented of; his uncleanness is to be repented of; but his repentance is never to be repented of, because it is the inlet to joy. ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ Here is sweet fruit from a bitter stock. Christ caused the earthen vessels to be filled to the brim with water, and then turned the water into wine (John 2:9). So when the eye, that earthen vessel, has been filled with water to the brim, then Christ will turn the water of tears into the wine of joy. ‘Holy mourning,’ says Basil, ‘is the seed out of which the flower of eternal joy grows.’
The REASONS why the mourner shall be comforted.
 Because mourning is made on purpose for this end. Mourning is not prescribed for itself but that it may lead on to something else—that it may lay a train for comfort. Therefore we sow in tears—that we may reap in joy. Holy mourning is a spiritual medicine. Now a medicine is not prescribed for itself—but for the sake of health. So gospel-mourning is appointed for this very end—to bring forth joy.
 The spiritual mourner is the fittest person for comfort. When the heart is broken for sin—now it is fittest for joy. God pours the golden oil of comfort—into broken vessels. The mourner’s heart is emptied of pride—and God fills the empty with his blessing. The mourner’s tears have helped to purge out corruption—and then God gives a cordial. The mourner is ready to faint away under the burden of sin—and then the refreshing cordial comes seasonably. The Lord would have the incestuous person (upon his deep humiliation) to be comforted, lest ‘he should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow’ (2 Corinthians 2:7).
This is the mourner’s privilege: ‘He shall be comforted’. The valley of tears brings the soul into a paradise of joy. A sinner’s joy brings forth sorrow. The mourner’s sorrow brings forth joy. ‘Your sorrow shall be turned into joy’ (John 16:20). The saints have a sorrowful seedtime—but a joyful harvest. ‘They shall be comforted’.
Now to illustrate this, I shall show you what the comforts are, that the mourners shall have. These comforts are of a divine infusion, and they are twofold, either here or hereafter.
They are called ‘the consolations of God’ (Job 15:11); that is, ‘great comforts’, such as none but God can give. They exceed all other comforts as far as heaven exceeds earth. The root on which these comforts grow is the blessed Spirit. He is called ‘the Comforter’ (John 14:26), and comfort is said to be a ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22). Christ purchased peace, and the Spirit speaks peace.
How does the Spirit comfort? Either mediately or immediately.
 The Spirit comforts mediately, by helping us to apply the promises to ourselves and draw water out of those ‘wells of salvation’. We lie as dead children at the breast—until the Spirit helps us to suck the breast of a promise; and when the Spirit has taught faith this art, now comfort flows in. O how sweet is the breast-milk of a promise!
 The Spirit comforts immediately. The Spirit by a more direct act presents God to the soul as reconciled. He ‘sheds his love abroad in the heart’, from whence flows infinite joy (Romans 5:5). The Spirit secretly whispers pardon for sin—and the sight of a pardon dilates the heart with joy. ‘Be of good cheer—your sins are forgiven’ (Matthew 9:2).
That I may speak more fully to this point, I shall show you the nature and excellencies of these comforts which God gives his mourners. These comforts are real comforts. The Spirit of God cannot witness to that which is untrue. There are many in this age who pretend to comfort—but their comforts are mere impostures. A man may as well be swelled with false, as true comforts. The comforts of the saints are certain. They have the seal of the Spirit set to them (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13). A seal is for confirmation. When a deed is sealed, it is firm and unquestionable. When a Christian has the seal of the Spirit stamped upon his heart—now he is confirmed in the love of God.
Wherein do these comforts of the Spirit which are unquestionably sure, differ from those which are false and pretended? Three ways:
First, the comforts of God’s Spirit are laid in deep conviction: ‘And when he (that is, the Comforter) has come, he shall convict the world of sin’ (John 16:7, 8).
Why does conviction go before consolation? Conviction of sin, fits for comfort. By conviction of sin, the Spirit sweetly disposes the heart to seek after Christ and then to receive Christ. Once the soul is convinced of sin and of the hell which follows sin—a Savior is precious. When the Spirit has shot in the arrow of conviction, ‘now,’ says a poor soul, ‘Where may I meet with Christ? How may I come to enjoy Christ?’ ‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves? All the world for one glimpse of my Savior!’
Again, the Spirit by conviction makes the heart willing to receive Christ upon his own terms. Man, by nature, would bargain with Christ. He would take half Christ. He would take him for a Savior to save him from his sin—but not as a King to rule over him. He would accept of Christ as he has ‘a head of gold’ (Canticles 5:11)—but not as he has ‘the government upon his shoulder’ (Isaiah 9:6). But when God lets loose the spirit of bondage and convinces a sinner of his lost, undone condition—now he is content to have Christ upon any terms. When Paul was struck down to the ground by a spirit of conviction, he cries out, ‘Lord, what will you have me to do?’ (Acts 9:6). Let God propound whatever articles he will—the soul will subscribe to them. Now, when a man is brought to Christ’s terms, to believe and obey, then he is fit for mercy. When the Spirit of God has been a spirit of conviction of sin, then He becomes a spirit of consolation. When the plough of the law has gone upon the heart and broken up the fallow ground—then God sows the seed of comfort. Those who brag of comfort—but were never truly convicted, nor broken, for sin—have cause to suspect their comfort to be a delusion of Satan. It is like a madman’s joy, who thinks himself to be a king—but it may be said of ‘his laughter, it is mad’ (Ecclesiastes 2:2). The seed which lacked ‘depth of earth’ withered (Matthew 13:5). That comfort which lacks ‘depth of earth’, deep humiliation and conviction, will soon wither and come to nothing.
The Spirit of God is a sanctifying, before a comforting Spirit. As God’s Spirit is called the ‘Comforter’, so he is called ‘a Spirit of grace’ (Zechariah 12:10). Grace is the work of the Spirit. Comfort is the seal of the Spirit. The work of the Spirit goes before the seal. The graces of the Spirit are compared to water (Isaiah 44:3) and to oil (Isaiah 61:3). First, God pours in the water of the Spirit and then comes the oil of gladness. The oil (in this sense) runs above the water. Hereby we shall know whether our comforts are true and genuine. Some talk of the comforting Spirit, who never had the sanctifying Spirit. They boast of assurance—but never had grace. These are spurious joys. These comforts will leave men at death. They will end in horror and despair. God’s Spirit will never set seal to a blank. First, the heart must be an epistle written with the finger of the Holy Spirit—and then it is ‘sealed with the Spirit of promise’.
First, the comforts of the Spirit are HUMBLING. ‘Lord,’ says the soul, ‘what am I that I should have a smile from heaven, and that you should give me a privy seal of your love?’ The more water is poured into a bucket—the lower it descends. The fuller the ship is laden with sweet spices—the lower it sails. The more a Christian is filled with the sweet comforts of the Spirit—the lower he sails in humility. The fuller a tree is of fruit—the lower the bough hangs. The more full we are of ‘the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy and peace’ (Galatians 5:22), the more we bend in humility. Paul, a ‘chosen vessel’ (Acts 9:15), filled with the wine of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:5), did not more abound in joy, than in lowliness of mind. ‘Unto me who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given . . ‘, (Ephesians 3:8). He who was the chief of the apostles calls himself the least of the saints.
Those who say they have comfort—but are proud; who have learned to despise others—their comforts are delusions. The devil is able, not only to ‘transform himself into an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14)—but he can transform himself into the comforter. It is easy to counterfeit money, to silver over brass and put the king’s image upon it. The devil can silver over false comforts and make them look as if they had the stamp of the King of heaven upon them. The comforts of God are humbling. Though they lift the heart up in thankfulness—yet they do not puff it up in pride.
Second, the comforts God gives his mourners are UNMIXED. They are not tempered with any bitter ingredients. Worldly comforts are like wine that is mixed with dregs. ‘In the midst of laughter the heart is sad’ (Proverbs 14:13). If the breast of a sinner were anatomized and opened—you would find a worm gnawing at his heart. Guilt is a wolf which feeds in the breast of his comfort. A sinner may have a smiling countenance—but a chiding conscience. His mirth is like the mirth of a man in debt, who is every hour in fear of arrest. The comforts of wicked men are spiced with bitterness. They are worm-wood wine.
‘These are the men who tremble, and grow pale at every lightning flash, and when it thunders are half-dead with terror at the very first rumbling of the heavens.’
But spiritual comforts are pure. They are not muddied with guilt, nor mixed with fear. They are the pure wine of the Spirit. What the mourner feels is joy, and nothing but joy.
Third, the comforts God gives his mourners are SWEET. ‘Truly the light is sweet’ (Ecclesiastes 11:7); so is the light of God’s countenance. How sweet are those comforts which bring the Comforter along with them! (John 14:10). Therefore the love of God shed into the heart, is said to be ‘better than wine’ (Canticles 1:2). Wine pleases the palate—but the love of God cheers the conscience. The lips, of Christ ‘drop sweet-smelling myrrh’ (Canticles 5:13). The comforts which God gives, are a Christian’s music. They are the golden pot of manna, the nectar and ambrosia of a Christian. They are the saints’ festival, their banqueting delicacies.
So sweet are these divine comforts, that the church had her fainting fits, for lack of them. ‘Stay me with flagons’ (Canticles 2:5). By these flagons, are meant the comforts of the Spirit. The Hebrew word signifies ‘all variety of delights’ to show the abundance of delectability and sweetness in these comforts of the Spirit. ‘Comfort me with apples.’ Apples are sweet in taste, fragrant in smell. Just so, sweet and delicious are those apples which grow upon the tree in paradise. These comforts from above are so sweet that they make all other comforts sweet; health, estate, relations. They are like sauce which makes all our earthly possessions and enjoyments come off with a bitter relish. So sweet are these comforts of the Spirit, that they much abate and moderate our joy in worldly things. He who has been drinking choice wine, will not much desire water; and that man who has once ‘tasted how sweet the Lord is’ (Psalm 34:8), and has drunk the cordials of the Spirit, will not thirst immoderately after carnal delights. Those who play with dogs and birds—it is a sign they have no children. Just so, such as are inordinate in their desire and love of the creature, declare plainly that they never had better comforts.
Fourth, these comforts which God gives his mourners are HOLY comforts. They are called ‘the comfort of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 9:31). Everything propagates in its own kind. The Holy Spirit can no more produce impure joys in the soul, than the sun can produce darkness. He who has the comforts of the Spirit looks upon himself as a person engaged to do God more service. Has the Lord looked upon me with a smiling face? I can never pray enough. I can never love God enough. The comforts of the Spirit raise in the heart a holy antipathy against sin. The dove hates every feather from the hawk. Just so, there is a hatred of every motion and temptation to evil. He who has a principle of life in him, opposes everything that would destroy life—he hates poison. So he who has the comforts of the Spirit living in him, sets himself against those sins which would murder his comforts. Divine comforts give the soul more acquaintance with God. ‘Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus.’ (1 John 1:3).
Fifth, the comforts reserved for the mourners are FILLING comforts. ‘The God of hope fill you with all joy . . .’ (Romans 15:13). ‘Ask . . . that your joy may be full’ (John 16:24). When God pours in the joys of heaven, they fill the heart and make it run over. ‘I am exceeding joyful . . .’ (2 Corinthians 7:4). The Greek word is ‘I overflow with joy’, as a cup that is filled with wine until it runs over. Outward comforts can no more fill the heart—than a triangle can fill a circle. Spiritual joys are satisfying. ‘My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow, and I will praise you with joyful lips’ (Psalm 63:5). David’s heart was full, and the joy broke out at his lips. ‘You have put gladness in my heart’ (Psalm 4:7). Worldly joys put gladness into the face: ‘They rejoice in the face’ (2 Corinthians 5:12). But the Spirit of God puts gladness into the heart. Divine joys are heart joys (Zechariah 10:7). ‘Your heart shall rejoice’ (John 16:22). A believer rejoices in God: ‘My Spirit rejoices in God . . .’ (Luke 1:47).
And to show how filling these comforts are which are of a heavenly extraction, the Psalmist says they create greater joy than when ‘their wine and oil increase’ (Psalm 4:7). Wine and oil may delight—but they cannot satisfy; they have their emptiness and indigence. We may say as Zechariah 10:2, ‘They comfort in vain.’ Outward comforts sooner cloy than cheer—and sooner weary than fill. Xerxes offered great rewards to him who could find out a new pleasure—but the comforts of the Spirit are satisfactory. They refresh the heart. ‘Your comforts delight my soul’ (Psalm 94:19). There is as much difference between heavenly comforts and earthly comforts—as between a banquet which is eaten, and one which is painted on the wall.
Sixth, the comforts God gives his mourners in this life are GLORIOUS comforts. ‘Joy full of glory’ (1 Peter 1:8). They are glorious because they are a foretaste of that joy which we shall have in a glorified estate. These comforts are a pledge of glory. They put us in heaven before our time. ‘You were sealed with the Holy Spirit, which is the pledge of the inheritance’ (Ephesians 1:13, 14). So the comforts of the Spirit are the pledge, the ‘cluster of grapes’ at Eshcol (Numbers 13:23), the first-fruits of the heavenly Canaan. The joys of the Spirit are glorious, in opposition to other joys, which compared with these, are inglorious and vile.
A carnal man’s joy, as it is airy and flashy, so it is sordid. He sucks nothing but dregs. ‘You rejoice in a thing of nothing’ (Amos 6:13). A carnal spirit rejoices because he can say that this house is his, or that this estate is his. But a gracious spirit rejoices because he can say that this God is his: ‘For this God is our God forever and ever’ (Psalm 48:14). The ground of a Christian’s joy is glorious. He rejoices in that he is an heir of the promise. The joy of a godly man is made up of that which is the angels’ joy. He triumphs in the light of God’s countenance. His joy is that which is Christ’s own joy. He rejoices in the mystical union which is begun here and consummated in heaven. Thus the joy of the saints is a joy ‘full of glory’.
Seventh, the comforts which God gives his mourners are infinitely transporting and RAVISHING. So delightful are they and amazing, that they cause a jubilation which is so great, that it cannot be expressed. Of all things joy is the most hard to be deciphered. It is called ‘joy unspeakable’ (1 Peter 1:8). You cannot tell how sweet honey is, without actually tasting it. The most elevated words can no more set forth the comforts of the Spirit, than the a pencil can draw the life and breath of a man. The angels cannot express the joys they feel. Some men have been so overwhelmed with the sweet raptures of joy, that they have not been able to contain—but as Moses, have died with a kiss from God’s mouth. Thus have we seen the glass oft breaking with the strength of the liquor put into it.
Eighth, these comforts of the Spirit are POWERFUL. They are strong cordials, strong consolation, as the apostle phrases it (Hebrews 6:18). Divine comfort strengthens for duty. ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy whets and sharpens industry. A man who is steeled and animated with the comfort of God’s Spirit, goes with vigor and alacrity through the exercises of piety. He believes firmly, he loves fervently, he is carried full sail in duty. ‘The joy of the Lord is his strength’. Divine comfort supports under affliction: ‘Having received the Word in much affliction, with joy’ (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
The wine of the Spirit can sweeten ‘the waters of Marah’. Those who are possessed of these heavenly comforts can ‘gather grapes from thorns’, and fetch honey out of the ‘lion’s carcass’. They are ‘strong consolations’ indeed, which can endure the ‘fiery trial’, and turn the flame into a bed of roses.
How powerful is that comfort which can make a Christian glory in tribulations (Romans 5:3)! A believer is never so sad, but he can rejoice. The bird of paradise can sing in the winter. ‘As sorrowing—yet always rejoicing’ (2 Corinthians 6:10). Let sickness come, the sense of pardon takes away the sense of pain. ‘The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick’ (Isaiah 33:24). Let death come, the Christian is above it. ‘O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55). At the end of the rod, a Christian tastes honey. These are ‘strong consolations’.
Ninth, the comforts God’s mourners have are HEART-QUIETING comforts. They cause a sweet acquiescence and rest in the soul. The heart of a Christian is in a state of discomposure, like the needle in the compass; it shakes and trembles—until the Comforter comes. Some creatures cannot live but in the sun. A Christian is discomposed, unless he has the sunlight of God’s countenance. ‘Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down into the pit’ (Psalm 143:7). Nothing but the breast will quiet the child. It is only the breast of consolation, which quiets the believer.
Tenth, the comforts of the Spirit are ABIDING comforts. As they abound in us so they abide with us. ‘He shall give you another Comforter that he may abide with you forever’ (John 14:16). Worldly comforts are always upon the wing, ready to fly. They are like a flash of lightning. ‘They will oftentimes pass away and glide from your closest embrace’. All things here are transient—but the comforts with which God feeds his mourners are immortal: ‘Who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation’ (2 Thessalonians 2:16). Though a Christian does not always have a full beam of comfort—yet he has a dawning of it in his soul. He always has a ground of hope and a root of joy. There is that within him, which bears up his heart, and which he would not on any terms part with.
Behold, then, the mourner’s privilege, ‘He shall be comforted’. David who was the great mourner of Israel, was the ‘sweet singer of Israel’. The weeping dove shall be covered with the golden feathers of comfort. O how rare and superlative are these comforts!
But the question may be asked, ‘May not God’s mourners lack these comforts?’ Spiritual mourners have a title to these comforts—yet they may sometimes lack them. God is a sovereign agent. He will have the timing of our comforts. He has a self-freedom to do what he will. The Holy One of Israel will not be limited. He reserves his prerogative to give or suspend comfort—as he will; and if we are a while without comfort, we must not quarrel with his dispensations, for as the mariner is not to wrangle with providence because the wind blows out of the east when he desires it to blow out of the west; nor is the farmer to murmur when God stops the bottles of heaven in time of drought; so neither is any man to dispute or quarrel with God, when he stops the sweet influence of comfort—but he ought rather to acquiesce in his sacred will.
But though the Lord might by virtue of his sovereignty withhold comfort from the mourner—yet there may be many pregnant causes assigned why mourners lack comfort in regard of God and also in regard of themselves.
1. Why mourners lack comfort—in regard of GOD. He sees it fit to withhold comfort that he may raise the value of grace. We are apt to esteem comfort above grace, therefore God locks up our comforts for a time, that he may enhance the price of grace. When farthings go better than gold the king will call in farthings, that the price of gold may be the more raised. God would have his people serve him for himself—and not for comfort alone. It is a harlot love to love the husband’s money and gifts, more than his person. Such as serve God only for comfort, do not so much serve God, as serve themselves with God.
2. That God’s mourners lack comfort, it is most frequency in regard of THEMSELVES.
 Through mistake, which is twofold. They do not go to the right spring for comfort. They go to their tears, when they should go to Christ’s blood. It is a kind of idolatry to make our tears the ground of our comfort. Mourning is not meritorious. It is the way to joy, not the cause. Jacob got the blessing in the garments of his elder brother. True comfort flows out of Christ’s pierced side. Our tears are stained, until they are washed in the blood of Christ. ‘In me you will have peace’ (John 16:33).
The second mistake is that mourners are privileged people, and may take more liberty to slacken or sin. They may slacken the strings of duty, and let loose the reins to sin. Christ has indeed purchased a liberty for his people—but a holy liberty, not a liberty for sin—but from sin. ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Peter 2:9). You are not in a state of slavery—but royalty. What follows? Do not make Christian liberty a cloak for sin. ‘As free, and not using your liberty for a cover-up for evil’ (16). If we quench the sanctifying Spirit, God will quench the comforting Spirit. Sin is compared to a ‘cloud’ (Isaiah 44:22). This cloud intercepts the light of God’s countenance.
 God’s mourners sometimes lack comfort through discontent and peevishness. David makes his disquiet the cause of his sadness. ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted within me?’ (Psalm 43:5). A disquieted heart, like a rough sea, is not easily calmed. It is hard to make a troubled spirit receive comfort. This disquiet arises from various causes: sometimes from outward sorrow and melancholy, sometimes from a kind of envy. God’s people are troubled to see others have comfort, and they lack it; and now in a peeve, they refuse comfort, and like a froward child, put away the breast. ‘My soul refused to be comforted’ (Psalm 77:2). Indeed a disquieted spirit is no more fit for comfort, than a madman is fit for counsel. And whence is the mourner’s discontent—but pride? As if God had not dealt well with him in stopping the influences of comfort. O Christian, your spirit must be more humbled and broken, before God empty out his golden oil of joy.
 The mourner is without comfort for lack of applying the promises. He looks at sin, which may humble him—but not at that Word, which may comfort him. The mourner’s eyes are so full of tears that he cannot see the promise. The virtue and comfort of a medicine is in the applying. When the promises are applied by faith, they bring comfort (Hosea 2:19; Isaiah 49:15, 16). Faith milks the breast of a promise. That Satan may hinder us of comfort; it is his policy either to keep the promise from us that we may not know it, or to keep us from the promise that we may not apply it. All the promises in the Bible belong to the mourner—had he but the skill and dexterity of faith to lay hold on it.
 The mourner may lack comfort through too much earthly-mindedness. By feeding immoderately on earthly comforts—we miss of heavenly comforts. ‘For the iniquity of his covetousness was I angry, and I hid myself’ (Isaiah 57:17). The earth puts out the fire. Earthiness extinguishes the flame of divine joy in the soul. An eclipse occurs when the moon, which is a dense body, comes between the sun and the earth. The moon is an emblem of the world (Revelation 12:1). When this comes between, then there is an eclipse in the light of God’s face. Such as dig in mines say there is such a damp comes from the earth as puts out the light of a candle. Earthly comforts send forth such a damp as puts out the light of spiritual joy.
 Perhaps the mourner has had comfort and lost it. Adam’s rib was taken from him, when he was asleep (Genesis 2:21). Our comforts are taken away, when we fall asleep in security. The spouse lost her beloved when she lay upon the bed of sloth (Canticles 5:2, 6).
For these reasons God’s mourners may lack comfort—but that the spiritual mourner may not be too much dejected, I shall reach forth ‘the cup of consolation’ (Jeremiah 16:7), and speak a few words that may comfort the mourner in the lack of comfort.
Jesus Christ was without comfort, therefore no wonder if we are. Our comforts are not better than his. He who was the Son of God’s love, was without the sense of God’s love. The mourner has a seed of comfort: ‘Light is sown for the righteous’ (Psalm 97:11). Light is a metaphor put for comfort, and it is sown. Though a child of God does not have comfort always in the flower—yet he has it in the seed. Though he does not feel comfort from God, yet he takes comfort in God. A Christian may be high in grace—and low in comfort. The high mountains are without flowers. The mines of gold have no corn growing on them. A Christian’s heart may be a rich mine of grace, though it is barren of comfort. The mourner is heir to comfort, and though for a small moment God may forsake his people (Isaiah 54:7)—yet there is a time shortly coming, when the mourner shall have all tears wiped away, and shall be brim full of comfort. This joy is reserved for heaven, and this brings me to the second particular.
‘They shall be comforted’. Though in this life some interviews and love tokens pass between God and the mourner—yet the great comforts are kept in sore for heaven. ‘In God’s presence is fullness of joy’ (Psalm 16:11). There is a time coming (the daystar is ready to appear) when the saints shall bathe themselves in the river of life, when they shall never more see a wrinkle on God’s brow—but his face shall shine, his lips drop honey, his arms sweetly embrace them! The saints shall have a spring-tide of joy, and it shall never be low water. The saints shall at that day put off their mourning, and exchange their sables for white robes. Then shall the winter be past, the rain of tears be over and gone (Canticles 2:11, 12). The flowers of joy shall appear, and after the weeping of the dove—’the time of the singing of birds shall come’. This is the ‘great consolation’, the Jubilee of the blessed which shall never expire. In this life the people of God taste of joy—but in heaven their vessels shall always overflow. There is a river in the midst of the heavenly paradise which has a fountain to feed it (Psalm 36:8, 9).
The times we are cast into, being for the present sad and cloudy, it will not be amiss for the reviving the hearts of God’s people, to speak a little of these comforts which God reserves in heaven for his mourners. ‘They shall be comforted’.
The greatness of these celestial comforts is most fitly in Scripture expressed by the joy of a feast. Mourning shall be turned into feasting, and it shall be a marriage-feast, which is usually kept with the greatest solemnity. ‘Blessed are those who are called unto the marriage-supper of the Lamb’ (Revelation 19:9). Some understand this supper of the Lamb, to be meant of the saints’ supping with Christ in heaven. Men after hard labor, go to supper. So when the saints shall ‘rest from their labors’ (Revelation 14:13), they shall sup with Christ in glory. Now to speak something of the last great supper.
 It will be a great supper in regard of the FOUNDER of this feast—God. It is the supper of a king, therefore sumptuous and magnificent. ‘The Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods’ (Psalm 95:3). Where should there be grandeur and magnificence, but in a king’s court?
 It will be a great supper in regard of the cheer and PROVISION. This exceeds all hyperboles. What blessed fruit does the tree of life in paradise yield! (Revelation 2:7). Christ will lead his spouse into the ‘banqueting house’ and feast her with those rare viands, and cause her to drink that spiced wine, that heavenly nectar and ambrosia with which the angelic powers are infinitely refreshed.
First, every dish served in at this heavenly supper shall be sweet to our palate. There is no dish here we do not love. Christ will make such ‘savory meat’ as he is sure his spouse loves.
Second, there shall be no lack here. There is no lack at a feast. The multifaceted fullness in Christ will prevent a scarcity, and it will be a fullness without surfeit, because a fresh course will continually be served in.
Third, those who eat of this supper shall ‘hunger no more’. Hunger is a sharp sauce. The ‘Lamb’s supper’ shall not only satisfy hunger—but prevent it. ‘They shall hunger no more!’ (Revelation 7:16).
 It will be a great supper in regard of the COMPANY invited. Company adds to a feast, and is of itself sauce to whet the appetite. Saints, angels, archangels will be at this supper. Nay, Christ himself will be both Founder and Guest. The Scripture calls it ‘an innumerable company . . .’ (Hebrews 12:22); and that which makes the society sweeter, is that there shall be perfect love at this feast. The motto shall be ‘one heart and one way’. All the guests shall be linked together with the golden chain of love.
 It will be a great supper in regard of the HOLY MIRTH. ‘A feast is made for mirth’ (Ecclesiastes 10:19). At this supper there shall be joy, and nothing but joy (Psalm 16:11). There is no weeping at this feast. O what triumph and acclamations will there be! There are two things at this ‘supper of the Lamb, which will create joy and mirth. First, when the saints shall think with themselves, that they are kept from a worse supper. The devils have a supper (such an one as it is), a black banquet. There are two dishes served in—weeping and gnashing of teeth. Every bit they eat makes their hearts ache. Who would envy them their feasts here on earth—who must have such a dismal supper in hell? Second, it will be a matter of joy at the ‘supper of the Lamb’, that the Master of the feast bids all his guests welcome. The saints shall have the smiles of God’s face, the kisses of his lips. He will lead them into the wine cellar, and display the banner of love over them. The saints shall be as full of solace as sanctity. What is a feast without mirth? Worldly mirth is flashy and empty. This will be infinitely delightful and ravishing.
 It will be a great supper for the MUSIC. This will be a marriage supper, and what better music than the Bridegroom’s voice, saying, ‘My spouse, my undefiled, take your fill of love!’ There will be the angels’ anthems, the saints’ triumphs. The angels, those trumpeters of heaven, shall sound forth the excellencies of Jehovah, and the saints, those noble choristers, shall take ‘down their harps from the willows’, and join in consort with the angels, praising and blessing God. ‘I saw before me what seemed to be a crystal sea mixed with fire. And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name. They were all holding harps that God had given them. And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb—Great and marvelous are your actions, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!’ (Revelation 15:2, 3). O the sweet harmony at this feast! It shall be music without discord.
 This supper is great in regard of the PLACE where it shall be celebrated, in the ‘paradise of God’ (Revelation 2:7). It is a stately palace. It is stately for its situation. It is of a very great height (Revelation 21:10). It is stately for its prospect. All sparkling beauties are centered there, and the delight of the prospect is personal possession! That is the best prospect, where a man cannot see to the furthest end of his own ground. This royal feast shall be kept in a most spacious room, a room infinitely greater than the whole firmament. Though there is such a multitude as no man can number, ‘of all nations, kindred, people and tongues’ (Revelation 7:9)—yet the table is long enough and the room spacious enough, for all the guests. One of the things which are requisite to a feast, is a fit place. The empyrean heaven bespangled with light, arrayed with rich hangings, embroidered with glory, seated above all the visible orbs, is the place of the marriage-supper. This infinitely transcends the most profound search. I am no more able to express it, than I can span the firmament, or weigh the earth in a scale.
 It will be a great supper in regard of its CONTINUANCE. It has no end. Epicures have a short feast—and a long reckoning. But those who shall sit down at the heavenly banquet—shall never rise from the table. The provisions shall never be taken away—but they shall always be feeding upon those sweets and delicacies which are set before them. We read that King Ahasuerus made a feast for his princes which lasted ‘a hundred and eighty days’ (Esther 1:4). But this blessed feast reserved for the saints—is ‘forever’. ‘At your right hand there are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalm 16:11).
For your consolation, consider how this may be as divine cordial to keep the hearts of God’s people from fainting! ‘They shall be comforted’. They shall sit with Christ ‘upon the throne’ (Revelation 3:21), and sit down with him ‘at the table’. Who would not mourn for sin—that are sure to meet with such rewards! ‘They shall be comforted!’ The marriage-supper will make amends for ‘the valley of tears!’
O saint of God, you who are now weeping bitterly for sin, at this last and great feast your ‘water shall be turned into wine’. You who now mortify your corruptions, and ‘beat down your body’ by prayer and fasting—shall shortly sup with Christ and angels! You who refused to touch the forbidden tree—shall feed upon ‘the tree of life in the paradise of God!’ You impoverished saint, who have scarce a bit of bread to eat, remember for your comfort, ‘in your father’s house there is bread enough’, and he is making ready a feast for you, where all the dainties of heaven are served! O feed with delight upon the thoughts of this marriage-supper! After your funeral, begins your festival! Long for the Lamb’s supper! Christ himself, has paid for this supper upon the cross! ‘Therefore comfort one another with these words!’